FROM the founding majority rule elections of 1980 to March 2005, all elections were conducted in more than one day. In the March 2002 presidential elections, the High Court actually extended the voting to a third day after the opposition MDC appealed to the judiciary
on grounds that there had been too few polling stations in urban areas.
In short, it had become a tradition for Zimbabwean voters to expect to cast their vote on either a Saturday or, if they miss this day, the following day.
But there has been considerable agitation against this based on the experiences in other countries where voting is done in only one day. It was partly in response to these demands and concerns that the government introduced a raft of electoral reforms in 2004 including one-day voting.
This was implemented for the first time in the March 2005 parliamentary election. No systematic study has been done to get the people’s view on this innovation and departure from tradition. What do the people say?
The verdict of public opinion on the innovation is an emphatic ‘No’. This is according to the survey conducted by the Mass Public Opinion Institute in April/May 2007. Exactly two thirds of the electorate rejected the reform while only 28% supported it.
And the rejection was across the board, ie the rejection cut across the traditional lines of polarisation. In the rural areas, 64% did not support the reform while 29% supported it.
The rejection rate was even higher in the urban areas where seven in ten (71%) rejected it compared to 25% who endorsed the new procedure.
Nearly two thirds (65%) of the youth do not support the change and the rejection is more emphatic among the middle aged with nearly three quarters (73%) rejecting the move. The elders (59%) are less opposed to the change but even among them, less than a third (31%) was supportive.
Noteworthy is that those without an education are the most supportive with more than a third (37%) of them saying they endorse the move but even in this group, half (51%) do not support it. — Mpoi Survey
Among those with primary education 64% give a thumbs down and this rises to 68% among those with higher education (secondary education and above).
Both the Eves (68%) and Adams (64%) also do not support the move. A provincial breakdown shows Harare (75%) is most against, closely followed by the Midlands (74%) and Mashonaland West (69%).
The least resistance comes from Mashonaland Central where just 57% reject the initiative, closely followed by Masvingo (59%). All other provinces lie somewhere in between Mashonaland West and Masvingo.
More tellingly, there is no major difference on partisan lines. 65% Zanu PF supporters reject the innovation, so do 69% of the Morgan Tsvangirai faction of the MDC. Only three in 10 (30%) of ruling party and 28% of MDC-Tsvangirai voters said they support the one-day voting procedure.
In short, it appears the one-day voting innovation has no takers. Those who administer elections (specifically the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) may have to take a second look at this especially given that the 2008 elections will be multiple elections i.e. presidential, parliamentary – House of Assembly and Senate, and local government elections. Otherwise, we foresee many potential voters being disenfranchised because of failure to vote when they want to. It is not too late for the ZEC to review this, if only for the March 2008 elections. Commonsense and fair play dictate such an urgent review.